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Surgical Management of Endometriosis

Author: Robert S. Schenken, MD

Editor: Julie DeCesare Zematis, MD

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Endometriosis may be strongly suspected based on clinical presentation however laparoscopy remains the gold standard for diagnosis. In patients with pain that is not improved with medical management, surgery affords an opportunity for both diagnosis and treatment. Surgical therapy may be conservative or definitive. Conservative therapy may include fulguration, laser ablation or excision of endometrial implants, lysis of adhesions, repair of tubal damage, uterosacral nerve ablation, and presacral neurectomy. Excision or ablation has been found to significantly reduce pain symptoms over laparoscopy alone, so endometriosis should be treated at the time of diagnosis. There is no data showing superiority of one modality over the other. In patients with ovarian endometriomas, excision of the entire cyst wall should be performed. Incision and drainage or ablation is not recommended due to the three-fold higher rate of recurrence and reoperation. Pain relief is achieved in most patients who undergo laparoscopic ablation or resection of endometriosis and adhesiolysis. However, the risk of recurrence is estimated to be 20% within 2 years of initial surgery and as high as 40 percent at 10 years.

Laparoscopic surgery and uterosacral nerve ablation (LUNA) disrupt the parasympathetic ganglia in the uterosacral ligaments, which carry pain signals from the uterus, cervix, and other pelvic structures. Randomized controlled trials have shown that LUNA at the time of laparoscopy does not decrease pain, dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, or dyschezia, so LUNA is not recommended. Presacral neurectomy (PSN) involves excision of the presacral neural plexus, which carries pain signals from the uterus and cervix. A randomized controlled trial of laparoscopic surgery with or without PSN showed that the severity, but not the frequency of pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, and dyspareunia was significantly less at 12 months in women undergoing PSN.

The term deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE) describes infiltrative disease that involves the uterosacral ligaments, rectovaginal septum, bowel, ureters, or bladder. Medical therapy of symptomatic DIE is usually ineffective or transiently effective, with high recurrence rates. There is no consensus on the extent of resection necessary to treat DIE. A multi-disciplinary surgical approach allows for appropriate extensive excision of lesions in the rectovaginal septum, rectal or bladder wall, or bowel resection. Hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy alone is inadequate for definitive therapy if endometriosis involving the bowel is left untreated.

Medical therapy after conservative surgery is recommended for patients with pelvic pain to reduce recurrence of pain and reoperation rates. First line therapies include either combined hormonal contraceptives or continuous progestins. Continuous combined hormonal contraceptives decrease recurrent dysmenorrhea for up to 24 months after surgery. Progestin therapy such as norethindrone acetate, depo medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), and the levonorgestrel releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) have all been shown to decrease pain recurrence rates.

Definitive surgical therapy (hysterectomy with or without bilateral oophorectomy), should be reserved for women with severe symptoms who have completed childbearing. A retrospective analysis of patients undergoing hysterectomy for endometriosis showed higher rates of recurrent pain (62% vs. 11%) and need for reoperation (11% vs. 4%) in patients with retained ovarian tissue compared to those with bilateral oophorectomy. In premenopausal patients undergoing hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy for endometriosis, estrogen therapy (ET) is recommended to reduce symptoms of hypoestrogenism, reduce bone loss, and decrease cardiovascular morbidity. Starting ET immediately after surgery does not increase recurrence or reoperation rates.

Further Reading:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Practice bulletin no. 114: management of endometriosis. Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Jul;116(1):223-36. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181e8b073.

Vercellini P, Viganò P, Somigliana E, Fedele L. Endometriosis: pathogenesis and treatment. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014 May;10(5):261-75. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2013.255. Epub 2013 Dec 24.

Falcone, T,  Flyckt, R. Clinical Management of Endometriosis. Obstet Gynecol 2018;131:557-71. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002469.

Initial Approval:  January 2012, Revised November 2016, Reaffirmed:  March 2018, Revised September 2019; Minor revision May 2021.


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